February 2, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Debating the future of Kamala Harris, ‘Democratic leaders’ decide sounding like sexists is better than sounding like racists
The vice president has little to do with it.
On Monday, the Post ran a thumbsucker in which unnamed “Democratic leaders” wondered whether Kamala Harris has presidential mettle.
The news peg was Elizabeth Warren’s less-than-sanguine remarks Saturday on a Boston radio show. The US senator said Joe Biden should run again, “is running again,” but she was cautious about the vice president. “I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team,” she said.
Evidently, that was enough to pick another peck of perturbation among “party insiders” who don’t know any more than anyone else about the future, but manage to convince anyone who will listen that they do.
Worse, they insult, demean and smear Harris in order to avoid answering the hardest question for Democrats: Would Americans elect, for president of the United States, a biracial woman who identifies herself as Black?
Vanishingly few “Democratic leaders” want to answer that question in the open. That’s why most of them spoke to the Post “on the condition of anonymity to convey candid thoughts.” It’s easier to pick Harris apart anonymously than it is to ask whether her race and sex are liabilities.
Given the destruction of candidate Hillary Clinton, who is not biracial and who does not identify herself as Black, the answer probably leans toward no more than it leans toward yes. That, however, has less to do with Harris than it does a country that can’t quite quit the white-power status quo.
Look, Biden is going to run.
Yes, Biden is geriatric. He’s the oldest president ever. He’d be 86 by the end of eight years. But listen, none of that matters. What matters is whether he’s physically capable of running again, and by all indications, he can.
Therefore, he will.
That should be the end of it, but of course.
Post reporter Cleve R. Wootson, Jr., was evidently in a subjunctive mood when he wrote Monday’s piece. If Biden runs, he wrote, the vice president “would be a central part of the campaign, making it a high-stakes dress rehearsal for her own potential bid in 2028.” If Biden doesn’t, Wootson wrote, “she would instantly move to center stage as his potential successor, facing the heightened attacks and scrutiny that accompany such a role.”
Well, Biden is going to run. Problem solved.
As for 2028, for now, it can take care of itself.
But the president is a detraction from the real issue.
The real issue is as old as America: Would white people allow a nonwhite person to lead them? We know the answer. Barack Obama proved it. But he was a lightning strike. There won’t be another like him in 100 years.
Can Harris follow in Obama’s footsteps? That’s the implicit question beneath all conversations about her presidential mettle. That the question is monumentally unfair is another reason why Kamala Harris has little to do with any conversation about the presidential mettle of Kamala Harris.
Yet “Democratic leaders” don’t hesitate to look for reasonsreasonsreasons to say the vice president isn’t ready. Harris is too “visible.” She’s not “visible” enough. She’s too quiet. She’s not quiet enough. She’s too Black. She’s not Black enough. They say her “tenure has been underwhelming” and that it’s “marked by struggles as a communicator.” At times, her “near-invisibility” has left “many rank-and-file Democrats unpersuaded that she has the force, charisma and skill to mount a winning presidential campaign.”
I don’t know why we need to insult, demean and smear Harris in order to avoid asking whether white people would vote for a biracial woman who identifies as Black. I don’t know why “Democratic leaders,” of all people, would decide that sounding like sexists is better than sounding like racists.
Anyway, these reasonsreasonsreasons are the dumbest reasonsreasonsreasons.
Show me a vice president who was not underwhelming. Show me one who wasn’t nearly invisible. Show me a vice president who has shown “the force, charisma and skill to mount a winning presidential campaign” and I will show you a vice president who has committed political suicide.
Wootson’s report goes on and on, naming this and that thing Harris did or didn’t do to justify saying, no, it’s not the white-power status quo that keeps us from a full-throated endorsement of the country’s most visible Democrat second only to the president himself. No, no. It’s Harris herself.
It’s about her “skittishness.”
I don’t want to make too much of these thumbsuckers. But they are an expression of a party at odds with itself – between people who want to win and people who want to believe something that’s never happened can happen. I sympathize with both camps. We all should. This isn’t a game.
But that’s where discussions of Harris should begin, not with made-up reasonsreasonsreasons why she’s not ready. She’s ready. If she isn’t now, she will be. But let’s not kid ourselves about the real problem. It isn’t whether “the vice president’s job is really to be that person out there,” because the vice president’s job is something no majority has ever paid attention to.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.